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Halloween-themed activities at parks across North America are a hit with campers and help keep parks busy during the fall season. Credit: Jellystone Parks

It probably is no surprise to those who have been in the outdoor hospitality industry for a long time that the Fall/Halloween season is a hit with campers. In fact, many parks throughout the country have continued to increase the number of Fall/Halloween-themed weekends they offer.

Some even begin right after Labor Day.

“The popularity of these weekends has grown so much that some of our franchisees are doing anywhere between five and eight weekends that are Fall/Halloween themed,” Marley Behnke, director of franchisee education for Camp Jellystone, told WOODALLSCM.com (WCM). “These parks are getting to the point where they are just as full in the off-season as they are on a holiday weekend, which is phenomenal. It shows a great growth pattern for them, and they’ve capitalized on it.”

Behnke noted that families also enjoy being able to utilize their Halloween costumes for more than one night.

“They are not wearing them just for one night,” she said. “They get to wear them and go trick-or-treating six or seven times before Halloween even comes. Also, if they want to be different things over several different weekends they can be.”

At Inn Town Campground in Nevada City, Calif., Erin Thiem, the park’s owner, told WCM that over the six years since the park opened the enthusiasm of her campers has continued to grow.

“We have had to continue raising the bar,” she explained.

At the Bucksport/Fort Knox KOA Holiday in Orland, Maine, Marlene Greenlaw, one of the owners of the park, told WCM that the park is sold out for its Fall/Halloween-themed weekend.

“We typically host this weekend either the second or third weekend of September and we have been sold out that weekend every year and before we never were,” she said.

At Hidden Springs Campground in Clearville, Pa., Lisa Duvall, the owner of the park since 2016, noted to WCM that the park hosts a Harvest weekend and two Halloween weekends.

“The Halloween weekends have always been sold out and our Harvest weekend is popular too,” explained Duvall. “I know over the past decade fall activities and Halloween events have become big winners for parks, drawing in campers.”

Tamara Carmosino, accounts manager at Sparrow Pond Campground in Waterford, Pa., told WCM that the park sees over 5,000 people attend its Haunted Hayride every year and that it continues to grow in popularity. 

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Allowing campers to decorate their sites is a way to easily decorate for the fall season. Credit: Inn Town Campground

“This is our twelfth year operating the hayride and it is open to the public,” she said. “The campers get excited about this event, and we even have some that come and participate in scaring the wagon riders.” 

What Types of Activities Can You Offer? 

It depends on the audience you are trying to appeal to. Does your park attract a lot of families? Then you can offer corn mazes, trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, DJ events and more. 

Looking for a haunted experience? Many parks feature zombie laser tag, haunted houses and corn mazes, costume contests and more.

You can even do both, with some parks offering a family-friendly environment one weekend and a scarier experience another weekend. 

“We have got a few parks out there that shoot off apple cannons and even offer apple/pumpkin smashing,” noted Behnke. “That is the beauty of this time of year. You really can do a ton of activities because you have the Fall mixed with Halloween, and there are an array of activities and even crafts that parks can offer. 

“For some of our parks, during the day they try to keep everything family-friendly, and then when the sun goes down, they will offer activities for older kids and adults,” she added. 

At the Bucksport/Fort Knox KOA Holiday, the park offers a variety of activities from a haunted house, trick-or-treating, providing a DJ for a street dance and more. 

“Over the past three years the kids have received more candy at our park than they do going around town,” said Greenlaw. “Our DJ street dance is also popular because it is fun for all ages and everybody loves to listen to the music and dance. The DJ sets up a huge display that looks like a graveyard and even operates some fog machines. 

“The park’s haunted house is set up under the park’s treehouse and is open for kids during the day and then turns a little scarier at night for the adults,” she added. “To support Care Camps, we do a poker run and a bag walk. People fill these specific KOA-labeled bags with items and then we play a game of musical chairs and then draw a number to see who gets each bag. We charge for that, and all of the money goes to Care Camps.” 

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Other fall activities like car shows, fun runs and cake walks can be a great way to raise money for different causes. Credit: Hidden Springs Campground

At Hidden Springs Campground, Duvall said that they offer several different activities. 

“We have started doing a Fall car cruise and craft fair with a DJ, food truck and Kona Ice snow cones,” she noted. “We also host Oktoberfest, which is an adult activity and features local craft beers, frankfurters, brats and sauerkraut along with German music. We are doing this for a second time this year since the first time was such a big hit — I even bought my husband a pair of Lederhosen.

“The park’s Harvest weekend allows campers to make scarecrows, take part in crafts, enjoy apple cider and cookies, we hire a local photographer to take a fall picture for families and our crafter comes in and offers wood signs geared towards the holidays,” Duvall continued. “For our Halloween weekends we buy pumpkins to sell for painting, we offer kids games, hosts costume contests for people and animals, offer trick or treating and site decorating contests and we are adding a costume party with a DJ this year. We do offer an option for the public to attend our paint n sips, car cruise and trick or treating, along with some other events.”

At Inn Town Campground, Thiem said that the park’s festivities are centered around Halloween.

“We have always been really into the holiday,” she explained. “It started as a haunted pathway and during COVID evolved into several installations around the campground. We love it when our campers get into the spirit too. We set the stage, complete with lights, skeletons climbing trees all over the campground and a number of fun scenes. The other decorations are provided by campers only, so it is a great reason for many to come as part of a staycation.”

How Much Does This All Cost & How Do I Manage It?

At Sparrow Pond Campground, Carmosino noted that volunteers host its Haunted Hayride.

“We assign each group a scene and they do the rest,” noted Carmosino. “We do provide the volunteers who help out free hayride swag and we provide a banquet-style dinner after the season. They also receive gift cards for all their hard work. In total, the operation costs us about $10,000 to $15,000 per year.”

Thiem said her park Halloween events aren’t a huge expense at her park, it is more of a time commitment and takes imagination.

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Trick-or-Treating allows campers to dress up and gives them a chance to celebrate Halloween multiple times. Credit: Bucksport/Fort Knox KOA Holiday

“We love entertaining the campers and seeing their reactions to the decorations,” she explained. “We always encourage the campers to get into the spirit — and since we celebrate Halloween for the entire month of October, you don’t have to cancel your Halloween weekend plans.”

Greenlaw noted that park owners can adjust their costs and time commitment depending on what they want to do.

“The bag walk we do takes a little bit of planning, but all in all it isn’t that much,” Greenlaw noted. “We hand out the bags when people pay their electric bills because it is mainly our seasonals that fill the bags. There are no added costs except for what we donate. It is a quick two-minute conversation with each camper every year when I am already talking to them about their bill.

“Then we have campers that come in and help plan some of the other activities,” she added. “They enjoy it and they have been doing it for years. If you can find a person that is interested in helping out, it saves a lot of time on the part of the campground and it helps bring in a lot more campers and revenue to the park. With the money we make from hosting the events, it is well worth the time and money we invest into providing the activities.”

Duvall said that the activities she hosts at Hidden Springs Campground don’t require much work on the part of the campground.

“We mainly just have to pick out pumpkins that are then sold to campers and set up for the DJ and crafters,” she explained.

How Do I Get Started?

“You don’t have to do a bunch at once,” said Behnke. “You can start small and build off it. That is what most of our parks have done. They read their customers every year and start incorporating those things or carry them over from weekend to weekend.

“For some, it is taking activities that they may already do and adding a Fall/Halloween theme,” she added.

Greenlaw noted that she started with trick-or-treating.

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Parks have also found success offering haunted experiences for older teens and adults. Credit: Sparrow Pond Campground

“We allowed campers to decorate their campsites and then we handed out prizes,” she said. “Best costume was another prize we offered and then the cupcake decorating. Pumpkin decorating is also simple to start.”

Duvall said that if park owners aren’t hosting Fall/Halloween-themed events, they need to start.

“Campers want to get in the last bit of camping before winter and want a place to go with activities going on,” she explained. “If they enjoy themselves, they return and usually bring a friend or two. Word of mouth is our best way of getting more campers.”

Merchandise Sells Too!

“We are putting a heavier focus on that, and our retail team has been working very hard to develop a Halloween line,” noted Behnke. “We have Halloween-themed shirts, sweatshirts, toys, knickknacks and other things like that.

“We do see a trend of more sweatshirts selling during the Fall months and less of our pool supplies and other summer merchandise,” she added. “We also begin to sell Halloween-themed candy. Like the suckers with the crickets in them, candy that comes in what looks like blood bags and more.”